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Imagine how much better shopping online can be

October 28, 2008

“First Time Ever: Multi-Channel Holiday Shoppers Prefer Web to In-Store” says the headline of this report in a matter-of-fact tone.

Indeed. Online shopping is incredibly convenient. The ads used to sell it as something people can do in their underwear. At the time, the only barrier was confidence. As people get more and more used to the internet and realize that online merchants are trustworthy, the last barriers disappear and online shopping increases.

The exterior of a typical Target Store.

Image via Wikipedia

But I think we’re only at the cusp. Because really, we haven’t even scratched the surface of the what can be done online. We don’t think about stores as having non-physical spaces. What I mean by that is things are organized online in the same manner as they are offline. So mens clothes are in the mens section, and woman’s clothes in women’s. Things aren’t everywhere, even though technically they are nowhere. A search at Target.com for the term “Gift for my wife” turns up 1 result. From all of Target? And gift for my wife is something that half of all married people look for on occasion.

And not just that, but the stores themselves are focussed on commerce and not on community.

When I was growing up (before the world wide web) and had a lot more time on my hands, the two things were often combined. We used to meet and hang out at a mall.

Now, we meet and hangout in social networks like Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace. And we head over to a store, buy something, and then head back and talk about it.

Online, we’re missing the combination of social and purchase. Second Life bridges the gap, but takes community into more of a fantasy land, where avatars can be freakly and fly.

What is interesting, is the notion of community and shopping. The execution doesn’t have to be Second Life Mall, but it should combine the things that we liked about hanging out at the mall, with the ability to shop. Chatting. Meeting. Browsing.

When that comes, things will ge interesting.

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